In my capacity as patron, I am delighted to be able to open this year’s Potsdam Encounters today together with my colleague Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The circumstances are quite different this year – as in many spheres, the Potsdam Encounters have been forced to try out new, virtual forms of dialogue during the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, the encounters have immediately turned the circumstances into a most apt heading for this year’s meeting: “The pandemic and its implications for foreign and security policy”.
With the coronavirus crisis, the world is facing an unprecedented challenge that has shifted the priorities for many countries. It is clear to us that countries can only overcome this challenge by working with each other and certainly not against each other. When it comes to supplying protective equipment or developing vaccines, we can only defeat this virus by joining forces. It is with this in mind that Germany will set its priorities during its EU Presidency in the second half of the year. We are committed to multilateral solutions within the framework of our current UN Security Council membership also in this vein.
What does this mean for German-Russian relations? The events of 2014 strained relations between our two countries and, beyond that, between Russia and the West. Many other crises and conflicts have followed. For us Germans, it is clear that viable solutions can only be found in a multilateral framework and that Russia can make a major contribution to many solutions. We therefore need an intensive dialogue, especially between our countries, between our governments, parliaments and societies. Only in this way can we articulate our expectations of each other as well as our differing views. Only in this way can we also build a positive agenda as the basis for a new dynamic in our relations. I hope that the pandemic situation can even come to our aid in this regard. One of the things I look forward to with great interest is the growing intensity of contacts between the health ministers and health authorities of our two countries, which are now holding close and regular discussions on how we can successfully combat the virus and cooperate successfully in getting to grips with the impacts of the pandemic. We must not shy away from our joint responsibility here either if we want our countries to enjoy a bright future.
I am certain that the discussions at this year’s Potsdam Encounters can make a useful contribution to a better understanding of the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for foreign and security policy. Perhaps new projects or initiatives will emerge from this year’s online encounters – that would send a positive signal for our future relations. I hope that all participants will enjoy thought-provoking discussions.